A link between the Bank of England lending rate and chocolate rice crispies must seem fairly tenuous. But at the British Society of Baking’s June conference, which took place at its new venue, Ardencote Manor in Warwickshire, all became clear.

The line-up of speakers included Graeme Chaplin from the Bank of England, talking about the credit crunch, and John Slattery master patissier and chocolatier. Though known for making celebration cakes for the stars, as well as running a business, incorporating a chocolate and patisserie school and a restaurant, Slattery is a user of rice crispies. He demonstrated how, coated in his own delicious chocolate, they could be inclu-ded in countless lines, from Valentine’s cakes to Easter nests to lollipops.

It is one of the myriad ideas that have enabled him to build his business over the years. And he is now preparing for another move (see feature, page 22).

Salt and fat

But the conference wasn’t just about chocolate. Delegates also heard about the role of salt in breadmaking, reducing saturated fat in baked products, the success of National Craft Bakers’ Week, the use of enzymes in food production and an update on the National Skills Academy for Bakery.

Chaplin, who works for the Bank of England in the West Midlands, told delegates that far from being a remote operative, the Bank is very much in touch with businesses right around the country. The bank operates in each region and goes out to listen and talk with businesses. The information gathered is fed back to the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee - nine people who take key decisions about the economy and advise government. The bank’s role, he said, is to protect the value and integrity of money, promote financial stability, look at the banking system as a whole and come up with solutions. To set interest rates, it looks two years ahead and always tries to hit the inflation target set by the government of the day (currently 2%).

"Inflation is a scourge," warned Chaplin, "but deflation is just as bad." And he cited the effect on Japanese firms over the past 10 years.

He revealed that "over 25%" of businesses say the lack of availability of finance is limiting their business. "We are used to cheap credit, but, when looking for a higher return, you take on more risk and lenders took on too much risk. But you cannot let the markets sort it out," he said.

Chaplin added that the point was to get money flowing, but acknowledged that the economy as a whole was dire, though the pace of decline appeared to be slowing, which may offer hope for the future, he said.

Crust and colour

Dr Gerd Meyer of Daub Thermal Oil Ovens, represented in the UK by Benier, spoke about thermal oil ovens which, though costing more initially to purchase, give very good crust, colour and volume to breads, but also offer big energy savings and recycling opportunities that can be used to power heating, air conditioning and many different aspects of working premises. Energy savings and efficiency are very significant, he said.

Dr Ken Johnston tackled the thorny issue of salt levels in baked products. His consultancy, the Faraday Partnership, is working with the Food Standards Agency to assess the role of salt, which in turn should help determine the levels needed.

He said that flavour is not part of the project, as changes are unlikely to be noticed if salt levels are reduced gradually. Neither is the issue of salt and staling. Johnston said his organisation had learned yeast was a complicating factor and low salt levels at various stages had also resulted in dough stickiness when transferring from moulder to tin. There is a loss of tolerance to over-proving. But although problems had arisen, the Public Health Authorities were still putting on the pressure for salt intake to be reduced and bread was a primary user, he said. A new government report will be issued shortly.

Much has been reported elsewhere on the big success of National Craft Bakers’ Week but National Association of Master Bakers past-president Chris Beaney said one thing was sure - it should take place again next year. For 2010, it was hoped national as well as regional TV coverage could be achieved and older school pupils could take part in the craft events, he said.

In urging delegates to find alternatives to saturated fat, Steve Knapton of Pura Foods said government estimated that if adults could consume 11% of saturated fats in their diet instead of 13.4%, some 3,500 lives should be saved a year. Many sectors are to be targeted by government but bakery is the first, he announced. His very scientific paper showed that fats experts have been working hard to produce alternative fats and sometimes different viscosities to give the desired results.

Skills update

Matthew May updated delegates on the National Skills Academy for Bakery. He explained it is now working towards the provision of courses via a network champion, which will deliver the knowledge and skills the baking industry needs, at all levels.

Stephen Humphries, head of external affairs at the Food Standards Agency said its vision and strategy is safe food and healthy eating for all. Alluding to baked goods, he pointed to two recent successes in reformulation stating: "United Biscuits uses 50% less saturated fat in its Digestives and Hob Nobs."

He said the FSA was now working with coffee chains and caterers, which was proving an important move and progress was being made over fats and salt. Calories, too, are now entering the equation, he said.

Meanwhile, the Scores on the Doors system awarded to individual retailers, though occa- sionally inconsistent in different regions, was proving a worthwhile scheme and should be rolled out nationally.

Enzymes have recently made the headlines after it was falsely claimed that animal enzymes are used in plant bread. Enzymes are used extensively in plant baking because they make for a faster rate of reaction. But they are sensitive to salt, heat and chemicals.

Bob Whitehurst, technical co-ordinator of AB Mauri explained how enzymes can reduce staling in bread by reacting with starch; they do not need heat or chemicals and they are fully biodegradable. "You only need small amounts and they do not cost a lot," he said. He also countered recent false, but widely reported claims in the national press, that animal enzymes were present, making plant bread unsuitable for vegetarians. "Absolutely no enzymes whatsoever from any animals are used in bread!" he stated.